As summer approaches, our thoughts drift to family reunions and vacations. Summer is a great time for a family vacation as children are out of school.
Even for people who cannot vacation in the summer, there are often family get-togethers at the homes of relatives, in a local spark, or at the beach. For parents who are separated, by divorce or otherwise, summertime child-custody scheduling can be a challenge.
Child-custody order: If you have one, review it now
If you have a child-custody order, now is the time to review it carefully. Each custody order is specific to the circumstances of your child or children. But it may be that your custody order provides for some flexibility. It will probably have a specific custody schedule but may allow for other times as agreed by the parties. Each parent might be permitted a week or two during the summer, and it might require a certain number of days prior written notice to the other parent. So, get your notice to the other parent before you pay for or put down a big deposit on a vacation. A custody order might state that whoever gives notice first gets the time. But make sure your notice is delivered in time to the other party and that you can show it was indeed received.
Talk to your lawyer: If you have one
If you are unsure or confused by the terms of your child-custody order, contact the lawyer who represented you. If she/he is no longer your lawyer, you can always consult with another family law attorney.
If you do not have a lawyer: You are a pro se litigant
If you did not have a lawyer represent you in your child-custody matter, and you don’t have a lawyer now, it might be a good time to consult with a family law attorney. Individuals who represent themselves in court are called pro se litigants. If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact your local city, county or state bar association, which can help you find a lawyer, maybe even a lawyer who will work with you regarding the costs. Also, the bar association should be able to provide you with contact information of legal aid organizations, which might provide you with a lawyer pro bono, meaning at no cost to you.
Every parenting pair behaves differently. Some are really good sports and encourage their child or children to have a good relationship with the other parent. And sometimes — well, let’s just say sometimes it can be challenging.
What do the kids want?
There is a big difference between a 3-year-old and a teenager. A 3-year-old goes where the parent goes usually, but a teenager might have special needs and desires. Maybe a 16-year-old wants to go to another state and spend a big portion of the summertime with grandparents, an aunt and an uncle, or cousins. A teenager might possess special talents, like in sports or music, and perhaps a sports or music camp would be a perfect summertime setting for that child, at least for part of the summer. If you cannot afford to send your child or children to camp, you can inquire about financial assistance. Just make sure to include the other parent in any planning along these lines if you have shared legal custody.
As time marches on, things change
Changed circumstances are inevitable. The law understands this and allows for a parent to petition the court to amend the child-custody order if the changed circumstances warrant it. That 3-year-old will become a teenager. Maybe the other parent has remarried. Or maybe you have remarried or have a special friend. Maybe one of the parents got a great job offer out of state. Whatever the change or changes in your circumstances, maybe a change in your child-custody order is needed. No lawyer can predict what the court will decide, but certainly changed circumstances should be evaluated and maybe brought before the court. Some changes are minor and some are significant. Maybe you want your child raised in the same religion as you and the other parent disagrees. Maybe you would like your child to go to a particular school and the other parents disagrees. There may be any number of changes or differences. You might consider working with an attorney who can try to broker an agreement. And there is also mediation which can be very helpful in addressing changes or differences.
Have a great and safe summer
Childhood is a short time with several different stages of development. Each child is unique. Enjoy your time with your child or children now. All best wishes for a great and safe summer.
Mark-Allen Taylor, Esq. is a Center City attorney specializing in family law (www.mat-law.com). Email him at [email protected] call 215-854-4008.